UPDATED: Bishop Kettler to hold listening sessions following abuse allegations

Categories: Listening Sessions

July 17, 2015

NOTE: The schedule for the listening sessions can be found at the end of this article.

The Visitor

Bishop Donald Kettler will hold a series of listening sessions in August following allegations of sexual abuse committed by three priests of the diocese.

The Diocese of St. Cloud was recently notified of four civil lawsuits alleging abuse by Father Robert Smith, Father William Wey and Father James Thoennes. The suits name the Diocese of St. Cloud as a defendant.

Smith and Wey have been deceased for more than 25 years. Thoennes does not have faculties to serve publicly as a priest and currently lives in St. Cloud under restrictions.

The listening sessions will be held at parishes in areas of the diocese where the three men served. The gatherings are an opportunity for the bishop to acknowledge the accusations, listen and answer questions, and encourage any other abuse victims/survivors to come forward.

“I’m very concerned about any clergy sexual abuse that has ever happened,” Bishop Kettler said. “I want to do everything I can to respond to the people who bring allegations forward and to prevent abuse from ever happening again.”

The times, dates and locations for the gatherings are listed at the end of this article and will be published in the print edition of The Visitor. Pastors of the parishes involved also are being given announcements for their parish bulletins and are being asked to announce the sessions from the pulpit.

In addition to Bishop Kettler, other diocesan officials as well as Roxann Storms, the diocese’s victim assistance coordinator, will be present.

Similar sessions were held in the past in the Diocese of Saint Cloud. Previous to Bishop Kettler’s arrival in late 2013, Bishop John Kinney initiated listening sessions in parishes where clergy accused of abuse had served. Between 2002 and Bishop Kinney’s retirement in 2013, about 60 listening sessions were conducted, said Jane Marrin, chancellor of the diocese.

In January 2014, Bishop Kettler publicly identified Smith, Wey and Thoennes as among clergy — diocesan priests as well as members of religious communities who served in parishes in the diocese — likely involved in the sexual abuse of minors in the past.

Of the four recent lawsuits, one alleges Smith sexually abused a minor in the late 1960s and early 1970s while serving at Our Lady of Victory Church in Fergus Falls; another alleges Smith abused a different minor in the mid- to late-1960s while serving at Our Lady of Victory.

The lawsuit naming Wey alleges he sexually abused a minor in the early 1970s when he was assigned to Sacred Heart Church in Dent. The suit naming Thoennes, which includes him as a defendant, alleges he sexually abused a minor in the mid-1960s while assigned at St. Anthony Church in St. Cloud.

All four lawsuits also accuse the diocese of negligent supervision and public nuisance.

The following are the parishes at which the three men served:

Smith, who died in July 1987, served at Holy Angels Church, St. Cloud; Holy Family Church, Belle Prairie; Our Lady of Victory Church, Fergus Falls; St. Leonard Church, Pelican Rapids; St. Paul Church, Sauk Centre; chaplain, Poor Clare Sisters, Sauk Rapids; Holy Cross Church, North Prairie; and St. Stanislaus Church, Sobieski.

Wey, who died in July 1988, served at St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Cloud; St. Donatus Church, Brooten; Immaculate Conception Church, Sedan; St. Gall Church, Tintah; Sacred Heart Church, Dent; St. Peter Church, Dumont; and St. Patrick Church, Collis.

Thoennes served at St. Anthony Church, St. Cloud; St. Mary Church, Melrose; St. Joseph Church, Waite Park; St. John Church, Foley; St. Anne Church, Kimball; Sacred Heart Church, Dent; St. Leonard Church, Pelican Rapids; St. Joseph Church, Bertha; St. Edward Church, Henning; Chaplain, St. Mary’s Villa, Pierz.

As part of the restrictions under which Thoennes lives, he is not allowed to have contact with minors unless another adult is present, the bishop noted in a statement last fall. He must receive permission to travel outside the immediate St. Cloud area. He is required to meet quarterly with a monitoring committee — composed of two lay counselors and the diocese’s vicar general — which reviews the restrictions and makes recommendations to the bishop for revisions as needed. Thoennes also must meet monthly with another lay counselor. Additionally, he is required to keep a daily activity log that is reviewed regularly.

Bishop Kettler said he takes all claims of sexual abuse seriously and continues to pray for healing for all survivors of sexual abuse. He also encourages all victims of abuse to come forward.

Contact information for victim advocates and county officials to whom abuse can be reported is available online on the diocese’s website: visit www.stclouddiocese.org, scroll over “About Us,” then on “Safe Environment” and then click on “How to Report Abuse.” The diocese’s sexual misconduct policy also is available online at www.stcdio.org/sexualmisconductpolicy.

Listening sessions:

• Wednesday, Aug. 5, 6:30 p.m., St. Anthony of Padua Church, St. Cloud

• Wednesday, Aug. 5, 8 p.m., St. John Church, Foley

• Sunday, Aug. 9, 6:30 p.m., Mary Center, Cathedral of St. Mary, St. Cloud

• Sunday, Aug. 9, 7:30 p.m., Mary Center, Cathedral of St. Mary, St. Cloud

• Wednesday, Aug. 12, 6:30 p.m., Our Lady of the Angels, Sauk Centre

• Wednesday, Aug. 12, 8 p.m., St. Donatus Church, Brooten

• Thursday, Aug. 13, 7 p.m., Ave Maria Church, Wheaton

• Tuesday, Aug. 18, 6:30 p.m., St. Leonard Church, Pelican Rapids

• Tuesday, Aug. 18, 8 p.m., Sacred Heart Church, Dent

• Thursday, Aug. 20, 7 p.m., St. Stanislaus, Sobieski